Milliken Chamber is a recent project formed by two experienced musicians that enjoy to creat dark tunes with a twist of the past and some of the light redemption of pop music. This duo established in 2017 with Anna Shcmidt and Kevin Czarnick with the EP ‘Lily of the Valley’, and then they moved to a more complex music scene in Los Angeles geting out of their comfort zone and searching for new horizons. The change played well to their music, and as a result of communion and ideas they came back with the LP ‘Absence’, one of the hottest sounds of 2019’s darkwave in the US. I had the chance to interchange some words with Milliken Chamber’s Ann Schmitd, an artist that is moving underground music with her voice and shares inspiration with a very talented musician such as Kevin Czarnick. They made together ‘Absence’, a work full of catharsis.
Can you tell me what was the inspiration for the music and lyrics?
Ann Schmidt: Most of the instrumentation choices of the music comes from the synth pop genre from the 80s. Bands such as Depeche Mode. We’re interested in the sonic power of instruments such as our Roland Juno-106 and SH-101 which were used a lot in our recordings on the album. It’s not like we’re necessarily trying to sound retro or anything, but it’s that we feel those are still the best instruments and sounds out there today.
With the exception being the song “Death Will Come” for which lyrics were written and performed by Kevin, I wrote the lyrics to the songs on the album with a much more personal note than in our last EP. Going back to the first songs in 2016 with the band’s former name, “Prudence” I focused on writing my first lyrics ever about what was meaningful to me at the time. Unrequited love, heartbreak and in the song “Your Funeral”, the death of my roomate and friend who committed suicide in our home a couple years ago. Overall, my writing has always been based around my battles with mental health as a theme. For over half of my life now, I’ve suffered from a condition where a part of my brain (the amygdala) is hyper-reactive which gives me false alarms of danger or intensity of an interaction. Automatic over analysis of social cues & living within an emotional hurricane can wreak havoc on my health from time to time but on the contrary, gives me something to write about – that’s for sure! The topics in Absence being anything from feelings of betrayal to emotional numbness and relational trauma. My art keeps me on track and helps me use my pain to productive ends. The more I push music in my life, the less I need hospitalizations or medications to survive.
There are many projects all around the world dedicated to postpunk/darkwave, how did you create a sound that convinced you as musicians and as individuals?
Ann Schmidt: I can say there are a lot of ideas we throw away never release. We’re careful about the sound and we create that by being so selective about the parameters we put ourselves in and stick to during a writing session. That’s how we do it.
You both have experience making music on your own, but how difficult is to get along and make music together and match your concepts? How was all the process of the record, how did you get to the ten tracks?
Ann Schmidt: It’s funny you ask because it’s been a changing and evolving type of workflow. Kevin has mostly been a solo artist with very little collaboration musically. Even within projects where Kevin did collaborate with others, he ultimately wrote the main components within those projects and remained in control, being selective and critical of any contributors’ sounds which has proven to be very successful for him. This is how Milliken Chamber works, too, and I’m grateful and happy with it. He keeps me in check to bring out the best in me for this particular project. He’s got a skill at that part in working with others. Some elements need to be thrown out or toned down to sick to our sound with strong intentions. I do enjoy a most collaborative creative environment and I’m an improv artist at heart- an expression captured kind of a thing. I’m most proud of my work when it’s just the organic sound. However, lately, Kevin has been teaching me about, and surging my interest in refining. Listening, thinking and making improvements. Milliken Chamber had an unexpected gap in our two first releases. For a while, the instrumentation wasn’t working because I could tell that Kevin was bringing in more “layers” than I could handle. More electro derived or industrial sounds at times. I didn’t feel many of Kevin’s ideas from 2017 / early 2018 resonated with me and an artist. Not because I didn’t love the sound he created, but because there wasn’t really any “room” left for me on those tracks so Kevin created solo project Belladonna Grave and released a double LP with Oraculo Records with a great response. We’re partners in life as well as in the band so we’ve also made sacrifices and choices together such as choosing between a tour or vacation or deciding how much of our living space to reduce to make room for different forms of home studio we’ve built.
Seems like a good time for darkwave in the US. What do you think is going to happen to this hype and the music you create in ten years from now? Do you see yourselves creating, producing and sharing songs?
Ann Schmidt: As a vocalist with a classical and theatrical background, the singing in our songs feels like I’m doing some sort of anti-singing or something. My singing in this style is extremely reserved compared to everything else I’ve ever done. It’s really interesting but sometimes hard for me to almost purposely make something feel “off” or flawed about the vocals. That’s definitely how I experience most singers in this genre as a listener, and I find it fascinating and addictive! Darkwave is our favorite musical style. We totally love it. We love it so much that we had to start this band! And we are thrilled to see that it’s being supported more and more. Ten years from now, I hope that we are still creating music. It would be our dream to be able to survive on our art. At the end of 2018, when moving from Michigan to LA, we both left our 5 year careers making a decent living, but having to make art for the corporate world instead of for ourselves.
Milliken Chamber is the mid point between elaborated electronics, and the finest pop; all this wrapped in deep masses of well constructed synthetic sounds. ‘Absence’ is a spark with enormous potential, this duo has created in this album too many songs with high values of feelings and esthetics. It’s not easy to figure it out in a world like this with lots people doing good stuff. Milliken Chamber has found a way to bright finding their own path. The emotional music of this project is a long lasting type of art.